Trying to find the right combination of outside activities for your homeschooling family can lead you into a maze of confusion. If I chose to participate in all the classes my homeschool group is responsible for, I would never be home!
When choosing what outside activities to participate in, we look to see the principles we will be learning through these projects. We look to see that Christian character is developed, biblical stewardship and self-government will be learned and the unique individuality of each member of our family will be brought out during the activity. Each child will excel in his own field of creativity. The principle of covenant has to be stressed first because these outside activities take commitment.
In our family, we have chosen to stay as close to home as possible and have found the 4-H program to offer the best schooling and social choices for us. I grew up in 4-H, and for that reason, chose it for my children. According to HSLDA sources, 75 percent of homeschoolers are involved in 4-H in some way.
The choices of projects are endless and the flexibility of required time for project completion is something most families can live with. Animal projects may be year-round or only a six-month commitment and then sold at a fair.
I am married to a "city slicker," so the first time I mentioned raising pigs and goats for projects, I got more than a raised eyebrow. He has adjusted quite well through several seasons of animals and has even opted for poultry this year. Animal husbandry not only provides life-skills training, but at fair time these kids make great money on their projects. My son's swine project this year will earn him enough money to send him to AWANA Scholarship Camp.
As a project leader, I have held classes on cake decorating, public speaking, horticulture, cooking, canning and food preservation, bread baking, and more. Classes that I could not personally teach, I have coordinated with local friends who are talented in their fields. One particular friend has a ceramics shop and has been willing to teach for free at her place of business, with the kids receiving a great discount on all ceramic pieces purchased through her. The year that I could not handle 10 kids in my kitchen, smearing decorators' icing everywhere, I called the local cake-decorating store owner and we opted to let her teach. It was wonderful to act only as driver and helper!
The advantage to 4-H participation is the discipline and determination it takes to see a project through from beginning to end. Depending on the leadership at the local level, your children will be able to learn great record keeping-skills - figuring cost and profit margins, making growth charts and feed comparisons, and a host of other skills. Confidence is built as these children learn how to stand in front of an audience and give demonstrations, answer and ask questions (in complete sentences and proper form), and be judged for their work. Projects and record books earn medals and awards, and even money in some county fairs.
My children have won song-leading competitions at district and regional levels and have participated at the State Fair as a result. It is well worth in the poise and self-confidence that is developed. Record books show both the progress and development of individual projects, and a list of accomplishments and growth in the discipline from year to year.
My daughter has done independent projects in sewing for the third year. At age 14, she is now enrolled in a college sewing and pattern-drafting class and receiving full college credit. This cost us a total of $16 for school fees, but since her "school" did not offer that subject, the college offered it to her for free. I met the college teacher at a record book judging. The teacher examined my daughter's record book and asked if I might consider letting Juanita take a class with her. She had been very impressed with other homeschoolers who had taken her class and liked to learn. What a compliment, and before she had even started!
Our horticulture project has been more than educational. As well as providing a science class for my children, we have received donations and discounts on plants and supplies from nurseries and stores around the county. Our project joined the flower club that maintains the county fair grounds, and we now have a new set of older ladies and gentlemen to tutor our children in the fine art of maintaining the fair grounds.
The kids have learned to prune, transplant, do creative flower arranging, and clerk for various flower show events that happen on the grounds. When fair time comes around, we are part of a special team: we aren't the spectators who come to be entertained, we are the ones who prepare the displays and build the fair that brings such joy to everyone. Even for the children in the project who aren't from Christian homes, the biblical principle comes through. It is more blessed to give than receive. It is a blessing to bless others.
4-H is a federal program that is funneled through the state university program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For that reason, politics are becoming a major part of the organizational structure and policies. Be on guard. Don't give out more information than is necessary. In my county, our 4-H county development officers have decided to mandatorily fingerprint all project leaders and have tried to include as many parents as possible. On the surface, they have what sound to be noble reasons, but no county office has the right to hold private citizens' fingerprints, especially when it is not mandated by state or national office.
As homeschoolers, we should be ever vigilant about our freedoms and the personal information we provide to others. Call your local community leaders and find out how much personal information they require. The county offices are the ones with the bureaucrats, basking in political correctness. Chances are, your contact with them will be minimal. The individual clubs are where you find the like-minded people who really care about the kids.
4-H provides a wonderful opportunity for my children to be mentored by good, caring adults and have "grandparent figures" in their lives. We don't live close to grandparents and there are plenty of grandparents who don't live close to their grandchildren. These people have a lot to offer children who will appreciate them, listen, and be willing to learn.